What a year for hostile old people. Louie and Veep are both in the middle of historic seasons where the bile never stops gushing, both starring comic antiheroes who’ve aged into warriors of generational conflict. Louis C.K.’s onscreen alter ego might be a struggling comedian, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer is the president. But they both keep reaching new heights, and they both do it by cranking up the nasty. They’re a new paradigm of midlife aggro. They hate young people only slightly more intensely than they hate everyone else. And they make it look like fun. Hey, why settle for having a midlife crisis — why not be a midlife crisis?
The key moment in the new Louie season comes when he argues with a candy-ass millennial who taunts him in a kitchenware shop. “We’re the future, and you don’t belong in it,” she sneers. “Because we’re beyond you. And naturally, that makes you feel kinda bad.” Louie realizes this twentysomething twerp has a point. He feels lost and obsolete in the modern world. He really does feel stupid around young people — especially the ones he’s raising. It’s the stuff that fortysomething rage explosions are made of.
Television always goes for hostile old folks whenever there’s a youth explosion. After the social upheavals of the 1960s, the TV response was to give the nation Archie Bunker and Lou Grant and George Jefferson. They were bigots, they were bullies, they were the Man — and they took no guff from the chicos. And these days, with youth culture replicating itself and mutating at warp speed, TV is once again booming with comedic cranks, fuming about selfies and hashtags the way Fred Sanford used to spit out sushi.
Louis C.K. and Julia Louis-Dreyfus do this tradition proud. They were certified veterans, at the point where they could afford to relax, come on a little warmer and fuzzier, the way legends are supposed to do. But Veep and Louie keep pushing and experimenting, refusing to go on autopilot. Instead, Louis and Louis-Dreyfus plow into the cranky-but-lovable years of a comic’s career by hoisting their fuck-off-and-die flag.
Veep has gotten so dark, it no longer makes sense to call it a political satire. Instead, politics is just another affliction that happens to horrible people. In its refusal to coast, Veep keeps throwing new jerks into the mix who make everyone around them jerkier. This season’s triumph is adding the never-fail genius of Patton Oswalt, who can make anything twice as funny just by showing up. He finds creative new ways to abuse Jonah, the most noxious young White House staffer. Could anyone ask for a better metaphor for generational warfare than Oswalt squeezing Jonah’s nads?
When Selina preps to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she says, “I’m used to dealing with angry, aggressive, dysfunctional men — i.e., men.” Exhibit A: Louie, who manages to keep growing as a character without ever surrendering his core identity as an angry, aggressive, dysfunctional jerk. He sums up his whole philosophy this season in the moment when he shows up at a snooty young-parents pot-luck dinner with KFC. Every time you think he’s reached the zero-fucks-given zone, he finds a way to give even zero-er.
Steve Coogan works the same turf in Showtime’s Happyish, as a New York ad man raging against the kids today with their Twitters. Of course he’s not the least sympathetic — why would anyone send Coogan to play a likable guy? Instead, Coogan is the bona fide fortysomething asshole he’s relished playing since his twenties. But the writers don’t have the misanthropy formula down — Louie and Veep operate on another level.
Larry David perfected the rule in Seinfeld: “No hugging. No learning.” But there’s a big difference on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, because none of those damaged grown-ups was a parent. Miserable as they made one another, at least they didn’t afflict innocent bystanders. It’s more complicated for Selina and Louie, since they’re parents — all three of their kids will have extremely colorful tales to tell their shrinks someday. Selina’s daughter has grown into one of Veep‘s most poignant figures. It’s so sad to see the First Daughter suffer as the president tries to cop teen lingo (“epic succeed” — yeah, right). The president might run the world, but she’s just another mom with issues, looking into a tomorrow where she doesn’t belong and saying the hell with it. No hugging. No learning. No future.